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The Difference Between Husbands and Wives (one therapist's experience)

Today's blog is a few thoughts inspired by my work as a couples counselor. I want to say very clearly, none of this is directly aimed at one specific client. This is a very general theme I've seen in my couples counseling practice for a while now. I wrote this because over the years I've seen so many couples struggling with the same issue, I thought writing up a few thoughts would be useful for future clients.

 

1/4 Husbands and wives think differently

I've noticed a trend in my married couples. It might be regional. I'm in a historically conservative state where many married couples conform to traditional gender norms. Still, I think it's interesting.


The first part of the trend is kinda cliché. It's the husband who hears his wife's distress and just wants to "fix it."

It's like that old video It's not about the nail.

Or that scene from that even older movie White Men Can't Jump. You know the one where the white guy's girlfriend says she wants a glass of water, and the guy gets all confused because it's not about the water.

The basic moral of both of these videos is husbands just need to sympathize with their wives. If husbands simply did that, they'd have happier, healthier relationships.

 

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Here's the thing though. While it's a common problem for husbands to fall into "fix it" instead of empathizing, I'm seeing a equally common, but undiscussed issue with wives.


They want their husbands to just "do it."


It doesn't matter what the "it" is. They just believe that if their husband just did "it" right, things would fix themselves.


For some wives it's housework.

"If you would just do the housework, we wouldn't have fights."


For some wives it's the kids.

"If you would just help more with the kids, we wouldn't fight."


For some wives it's emotional connection.

"If you would just connect with me, then I would want to have sex with you more."


The problem with the "do it" mentality, is the same as the "fix it" mentality. Both miss the emotional core of the problem.


2/4 Why husbands try to "fix" emotions.

Husbands resort to "fix it" for two reasons.


First, oftentimes the solution seems as obvious as removing the nail from her forehead. When it seems that obvious it's tempting to just reach over and pull it out. What is hard to remember is she hasn't removed the nail because something else is going on. The hard part is listening between the words in order to empathize with whatever that something else is.


Which brings us to the second reason.


For many husbands, myself included, listening to his wife's pain triggers a deep feeling of helplessness. No husband wants to feel like he can't help his wife! It's miserable to feel that helpless. So we retreat to "fixing it."


3/4 Wives often battle high mental loads and inner critics

Wives, in my opinion, also resort to "do it" for two reasons.


First, because it really does feel overwhelming to be a woman. Many of my female clients are simply overwhelmed.

They have to be a wife,

and a lover,

and a employee,

and a mother.

They are overloaded with all the things they have to be to all the different people. And with all the expectations placed on them from the outside, they are dying from loneliness on the inside. So they fall back to "do it" because they just want someone to take some of the burden off of their plates. So they ask their husbands for help.


Trouble is, even when these wives ask for help, they are often still dying on the inside. Why? Because despite how much they "do" they are still haunted by an inner critic.


They have this inner monologue which tells them they are not okay.


Maybe it comes from society, maybe it comes from their mother, maybe it comes from hard experiences in high school. Wherever it comes from, they feel this internal pressure to do it right themselves, and an intense self criticism when things go wrong. "Doing it right" is her way of quieting the inner critic. And because that's her default strategy, she also expects her husband to respond the same way.


4/4 How to build a healthy relationship

Now of course, this isn't every wife or every husband. Just some of them. And it may only be a regional thing. Or maybe just the couples I attract. So this isn't some sort of absolute truth for all time for all people. Just one therapist's observations.


Still, I hope this post makes clear something that I think is really important. There is almost always something big happening just below the surface. If we can talk about those things, if we can talk about how powerless we feel when we see our partner's pain, or how much we struggle with self criticism, or whatever our unique pain is, then we have a hope of building a better, more secure relationship.


Or we can keep talking about the nail.


Best,


Jordan (the counselor)


Dr. Jordan Harris is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists with over 10 years of experience. He's worked in various fields from addictions, to kids, to psychiatric wards. Currently his specialty is working with couples and marriages to rebuild connection, deepen intimacy, and strengthen communication.


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